Antibiotics: To take or not to take? That is the question!

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Raise your hand if you have ever taken antibiotics for a sore throat! Yep, me too… a long, long, time ago. But we’re kind at The Medics Club so we’re not going to judge ourselves by the wrong things we’ll stop doing after reading this piece  🙂

Although antibiotics are very important medications, it is vital that we educate ourselves about the fact that they are only effective against bacterial illnesses and not viruses. Viruses cause most colds, flu illnesses, sore throats and coughs. Taking antibiotics when you don’t need to will invariably cause more harm than good.

Antibiotics resistance has become a burden in healthcare. It is as a result of

  • Using antibiotics when they are not needed
  • Using them too often
  • Not taking them as prescribed e.g. skipping doses or not completing the prescribed course of treatment
  • Sharing your antibiotics with someone else
  • Taking antibiotics prescribed for a previous illness for your current illness

Image adapted from CDC

When antibiotics resistance occurs, it means that bacteria that would normally be killed by these medications persist because they are no longer sensitive to them. It’s very tempting to stop medications too soon when we feel better but it is important to ALWAYS complete the treatment as prescribed by your doctor to prevent future harm. Imagine getting a serious bacterial infection and being resistant to the most effective antibiotic that’s supposed to treat it.

Below are a few medical conditions that are commonly known to lead to the ingestion of antibiotics as a remedy. But are antibiotics actually needed to treat them? Let’s find out.

Common cold and flu

Viral for sure! No need for antibiotics here as they won’t be of any help. These viral illnesses usually go away on their own after a specified amount of time. All you need is some rest, fluids, and anything that helps to relieve the uncomfortable symptoms. You can prevent flu by getting flu vaccines annually.

Image adapted from NHS Fife


Sore throats can be due to viral or bacterial infections. The majority are viral. Your doctor will need to examine you and possibly run some tests to determine it’s cause and prescribe the most appropriate treatment.


Could be caused by viruses, bacteria or even fungi. It’s important that you see a doctor who will decide whether or not you need antibiotics based on your symptomatology and test results.

Ear infection

This one is dicey as both bacteria and viruses can cause it. To be safe, let your doctor decide by examining you and your ears thoroughly and doing tests which would include culturing fluid from your ear canal.


Sinus infections, although can be caused by allergies, bacteria or even fungi, are mostly due to viruses. They usually resolve on their own within a few days. In most cases, only symptom-relieving medications such as analgesia are required. But if symptoms are severe or last longer than expected, it’s not unusual for a doctor to prescribe antibiotics as these might be indicative of a bacterial cause.

Image adapted from NIF


Mostly caused by viruses and so antibiotics are not usually indicated here in otherwise healthy adults. But the exception is with people who have pre-existing medical conditions such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). This cohort of patients are susceptible to debilitating secondary bacterial infections and so might be prescribed antibiotics as a preventative measure.


Eczema causes inflamed, itchy and dry skin. Although it is possible that the skin can get infected if the skin barrier is broken due to scratching and inflammation, this is not always the case. Antibiotics will not help with the itching.


Antibiotics are truly miracle drugs that have saved countless millions of lives. But antibiotic resistance is a critical public health issue that is eroding the effectiveness of antibiotics and may affect the health of each and every one of us.


Featured image: Reader’s Digest

Dr Wendy Evans-Uhegbu

The author Dr Wendy Evans-Uhegbu

Dr. Wendy Evans-Uhegbu is a graduate of The Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland, with experience in Connected Health, Medical Technology, Clinical Research, Medical Education, Medical Communications, and Web Design/Development. She is a part of the Medics Abroad team with the role of Chief Communications Officer. She is also a Medical Writer at 3D4 Medical and runs a Medical Communications and Children's books company (ODR Integrated Services/ ODR Books).  She is the author of the newly published children's book series "The Things Around Me".

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